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A TechCHAT On Dash & Dot Coding With CEO of Wonder Workshop Vikas Gupta

Coding experience is quickly becoming a differentiator in today’s workforce. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available by 2020 with only 400,000 computer science graduates qualified to apply for them. 

 

Other projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 1 million high-paying computer science jobs likely going unfilled over the next five years due to the current lack of qualified graduates. 

 

Recently, Wonder Workshop, creators of the Dash & Dot robots, released 21 comprehensive lesson plans made to help K-5 educators approach coding with young students while generating an interest in the subject. 

 

These lesson plans are made with Dash & Dot robots in mind. These smart robots help teach students the basics of coding, while providing an enriching process that creates both an interest and foundation in its basic concepts. 

 

The curricula is standards-aligned, and supplements instruction in core subject areas, such as math, science, English language arts, coding, and more. 

 

Vikas Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Wonder Workshop, drives their vision, strategy, and growth as it brings products into the hands of students worldwide. Vikas learned to program using BASIC when he was 14 years old and later went on to start a company, Jambool, that was acquired by Google in 2010. Previously, he led the payments and web services groups at Amazon. Vikas is a father of two, and it was the time he spent with his daughter, his first child, that inspired him to start Wonder Workshop. 

 

Recently, he discussed his experiences in bringing coding to K-5 students with Wonder Workshop’s unique robots and other tools with Education World. 

 

 

Dash & Dot robots are being implemented in schools to help teach 21st-century skills, such as creative problem-solving and computational thinking. What makes Dash & Dot a better option for classroom use over competitors like LEGO Mindstorms? 

 

We designed Dash & Dot with elementary schools in mind, and they bring the right ease of getting started for children, coupled with endless tinkering. We believe LEGO Mindstorms is a great product, but we consistently hear from teachers that they have a hard time introducing it to children in K-5. There is a high barrier to entry, and teachers have a difficult time incorporating LEGO Mindstorms in the limited classroom time they have to introduce coding and robotics. 

 

Dot is designed to be the handheld tool that you can code different behaviors into, and it can be programmed to be a controller for Dash. Dash is a robot, with both personality and extensibility, so children can extend the mechanics of Dash with LEGO bricks and Technics, and manipulate it with the programs they write using our Blockly app. Our teacher portal contains 20-30 minute modules and also extended lessons that help teachers fit use of Dash and Dot into a wide range of subject areas. 

 

 

Through four mobile applications, students enter codes that command the robots to move, light up and detect objects. What are some of the learning benefits associated with these processes, and how were these goals configured to optimize learning objectives? 

 

In primary grades, children are still learning with their eyes and hands, drawing, molding, and manipulating objects. At this age they are starting the tough transition to learning by reading. Having robots to work through problems visually helps many children with complex concepts. Programming a robot has tangible, observable effects. Testing the robot’s code can be done in a hands-on way with visual results. 

 

Our learning goal with Dash and Dot is to make computational thinking, and learning to code, accessible and fun for children starting in 1st grade. Our applications have complete access to the robots’ capabilities through interfaces designed to engage, challenge, and motivate the young tinkerers. We focus on open-ended exploration, coupled with the scaffolding and lesson plans that help the children progress to a more advanced proficiency of programming, completely on their own. The robots’ features, such as lights, sounds, motion, and sensors, provide the multi-sensory interaction that engage the whole brain.

 

 

Teachers are using the robots and free lesson guides to supplement a wide range of instruction, including science, math, engineering and ELA. To what extent are they being used, and more specifically, how? Please provide real-world examples. 

 

When we first introduced Dash and Dot to teachers, many of them were excited about the potential but simply didn’t have time to integrate coding into their class day. Coding is really a tool that can allows you to express yourself and become better at anything you do. We asked teachers what the most difficult concepts they had to teach were and found ways to introduce those concepts in hands-on and engaging ways for every child. 

 

Michelle Eckstein from Peak to Peak Charter School in Colorado has created math lessons that introduce two key topics: the number line for 1st graders and geometry for 4th graders. The challenge cards that you can download from her lessons help her achieve 100 percent engagement in her classroom, as they are divided into three types: scaffolded for those who need some extra help, on level, and challenging for those who are ahead of the curve. We’ve seen other teachers blogging about using her lessons and making their own versions. 

 

There have been several versions of the Robot Olympics in schools around the country. In Oakland, Helene Moore’s 5th grade girls’ science club at Joaquim Miller Elementary even designed their own robot games and mentored 1st graders in learning how to code. Students are not only learning math concepts and problem solving but also teamwork, communication, and leadership. We hope that these lesson plans will enable and inspire innovative teachers to find lasting value in teaching their students with Dash and Dot. 

 

 

Dash & Dot developers are currently working with educators to create standards-aligned, classroom-tested curricula. How is this going? What are some of the first Common Core products that have been released, and how have they played out in terms of engagement and effectiveness? 

 

We are both amazed and humbled by the work that has been done by educators all over the world to create curricula for their classroom. We’ve worked with several educators to bring a standards-aligned, classroom-tested curricula for K-5, that is available on our teacher portal at teachers.makewonder.com

 

The response has been overwhelmingly great — it enables teachers with no background in robotics and computer science to create effective lesson plans for their classrooms in elementary schools. Our 20-minute lesson plans are designed to fit into teachers’ existing curricula, and do not require a previous knowledge or experience with coding or robotics. As a result, we’ve found them to be instrumental in making our robots effective teaching tools in every classroom.

 

 

When it comes to education, coding is on the tip of just about everyone’s tongue. Discuss the realistic ways Dash & Dot robots empower students to code, and improve upon their coding skills. To what level of sophistication do Dash & Dot robots reach in terms of programming, and what are the learning limits? 


There really are no limits to what children can learn and do with Dash and Dot. Our coding apps, such as Blockly, focus on open-ended creation, and you can use everything you learn to build endlessly interesting programs. Some people might see the goal of learning to code as being able to write scripted programming languages, but we’ve made an intentional choice to focus on the computational thinking processes behind learning to code for elementary school students. We’ve taken the effort to take more advanced concepts in coding, e.g., variables, and present them to children with the right constraints so that they can not only learn them, but use them to create very powerful programs. 

 

 

To learn more about Wonder Workshop, visit here

 

 

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

Education World® 

Copyright © 2015 Education World

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